At a girls’ night out a couple of weeks ago, a prominent female lawyer said to our little group, “Women are tired of getting screwed, and the only way we’ll get an even break is when we’re in charge!”
I instinctively cringe whenever I hear someone (usually a woman) say that women in power will help other women and make the world rosier.
I hear that message everywhere these days—about how women will watch out for each other and push progressive agendas. I also hear that women are more sensitive, more honest and just all around better people, which is why they’ll make superior leaders. I hear they’re on a mission to overturn the good ol’ boy system in the entertainment industry, the legal profession, corporate America, our political system—you name it.
But that’s not what I saw this Tuesday. If anything, the midterm elections showed that women are not united, and that the #MeToo anger that was supposed to knock out President Donald Trump’s supporters and the sexism and racism he represents didn’t happen—certainly not on the scale that some women had hoped.
Of course, Tuesday had some notable successes—not the least being the big blue wave that washed over the House of Representatives and the record number of women who are heading there. More women ran for office than ever before, including some major “firsts”—like the first Native American and Muslim women elected to Congress. (Fun fact: Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, lost her bid for a second term to be county clerk.)
Commentators are giving women credit for this blue wave—which is deserved. But here’s the flip side: Women, white women in particular, also deserve credit for enabling Trump to continue being Trump. If you took the midterm election as a referendum on Trump, a substantial percentage of women basically put their stamp of approval on the way he treats women and people of color.
Women and men who made a stand for women or minorities, on the other hand, got smashed. I’m thinking of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, who took a highly politically risky stance by voting against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh and got killed by her Republican opponent. I’m also thinking of the two black Democrats who ran for governor: Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Andrew Gillum of Florida, who got hit with heavy-handed racial attacks during the campaign. Consistent with that theme, I assume, Trump called Abrams “not qualified” and Gillum “not equipped.” (As of this writing, Gillum has conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis, but Abrams is refusing to concede to Republican Brian Kemp.)
White women backed conservative candidates tied to Trump and pushed them to victory in a number of key contests: They voted 76 percent for Kemp (97 percent of black women voted for Abrams), 59 percent for Cruz (95 percent of black women voted for O’Rourke) and 51 percent for DeSantis (82 percent of black women voted for Gillum).
I bring all this up because I feel we often oversell (particularly these days) how women stand arm-in-arm against the male status quo. We assume—at our peril—that we can count on women to be on our sides.
Fact is, women aren’t always each other’s best friend or supporters, nor are they always pro-women. (In case you forgot, the ultimate anti-feminist who banged the nail into the coffin of the Equal Rights Amendment was Phyllis Schlafly.) Indeed, I barely know a female lawyer who hasn’t complained about being slighted or disappointed by a female partner at some point.
Look, I don’t want to take away from the notable successes that women made during the midterms. But let’s not overhype the sisterhood or how we’re all marching in line to change the world.
It’s just too much pressure.
Contact Vivia Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.